National inquiry chief commissioner Marion Buller describes murders of Indigenous women and girls as genocide

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      This morning, the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has released its massive two-volume report, with 231 "Calls to Justice" directed at governments, institutions, social-service providers, industries, and Canadians as a whole.

      The chief commissioner, Marion Buller, wrote in her opening comments that the report is really about "deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide".

      "The violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people is a national tragedy of epic proportions," she declared. "Also part of this national tragedy is governments' refusal to grant the National Inquiry the full two-year extension requested. In doing so, governments chose to leave many truths unspoken and unknown."

      Buller is a B.C. Provincial Court judge, former president of the Indigenous Bar Association, and a member of the Mistawasis First Nation.

      The report's executive summary includes a definition of genocide, noting that it wasn't incorporated into international law until 1948.

      The national inquiry has also concluded that nobody knows how many Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people have gone missing or been murdered in Canada.

      "Thousands of women's deaths or disappearances have likely gone unrecorded over the decades and many families likely did not feel ready or safe to share with the National Inquiry before our timelines required us to close registration," the report states. "One of the most telling pieces of information, however, is the amount of people who shared about either their own experiences or their loved ones' publicly for the first time. Without a doubt there are many more.

      "We do know that thousands of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA have been lost to the Canadian genocide to date," the report continues. "The fact that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples are still here and that the population is growing should not discount the charge of genocide; the resilience and continued growth of these populations don't discount the many actions detailed within this report, both historical and contemporary, that have contributed to endemic violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people."

      These names and photographs at a Vancouver event drew attention to some of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
      Amanda Siebert

      The first call for justice is for all governments, in partnership with Indigenous peoples, to "develop and implement a National Action Plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people".

      The national inquiry has also called upon all governments "to immediately take all necessary measures to prevent, investigate, punish, and compensate for violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people".

      In addition, there's a call for all federal, territorial, and provincial governments to work with Indigenous peoples to establish a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson. This person would have authority in all jurisdictions.

      And it recommends a new National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal that would have authority to receive complaints from Indigenous people and Indigenous communities with respect to human rights violations committed against them.

      "The ombudsperson and the tribunal must be given sufficient resources to fulfill their mandates and must be permanent," the report states.

      There are also calls for changes to laws and policing in Canada. They include a recommendation to charge people with first-degree murder if there's a homicide preceded by a pattern of domestic violence.

      The report states that these calls to justice are "not simply moral principles: they are legal imperatives". And it insists that they must be brought forward in a "decolonizing approach", which "aims to resist and undo the forces of colonialism and to re-establish Indigenous Nationhood".

      "It is rooted in Indigenous values, philosophies, and knowledge systems," the report states. "it is a way of doing things differently that challenges the colonial influence we live under by making space for marginalized Indigenous perspectives."

      Every year, there's a march through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to remember missing and murdered women and girls.
      Yolande Cole

      The calls to justice came in response to submissions from 2,386 people, including 1,484 family members and survivors, at 15 community hearings and nine knowledge-keeper, expert, and institutional hearings.

      Their testimony is sprinkled through the report.

      There's also a chapter on culture. It states that the history of colonization has included "targeted policies designed to sever...cultural and kin connections" within Inuit, First Nations, and Métis communities.

      "These attacks on culture, which include residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and other assimilatory policies, are the starting points for other forms of violence Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people experience today," the report states.

      In addition, the report maintains that "colonial violence directed toward cultural practice, family, and communities" had the effect of increasing the likelihood of interpersonal violence.

      That was as a result of "its distinct impacts on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of Inuit, First Nations, and Métis Peoples". 

      The national inquiry also released a separate report focusing on violence against Indigenous women and girls in Quebec.

      A large crowd turned out in the rain for Vancouver's annual march in 2011.
      Yolande Cole

      One of the commissioners, Michèle Audette, pointed out in her opening comments that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. Homicide rates were nearly seven times higher from 1997 to 2000, according to Statistics Canada.

      "That said, statistics cannot convey what families and communities really go through when they lose loved ones to such violence," Audette wrote. "The concept of family means so much more than biological lineage, with the strengths and diversity of a family being found in the sum of its parts. Each of them deserves to live in an environment where all of its members can develop their full potential safely and peacefully."

      A non-Indigenous commissioner, Qajaq Robinson, wrote that there "continues to be a widespread denial of rights and dehumanization of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples".

      "This denial and dehumanization is the foundation Canada is built on, and upon which it continues to operate today," Robinson stated. "It is the cause of the violence we have been called upon to examine. It is a hard truth to accept for Canadians today, as we pride ourselves on being a just and principled society, bound by the rule of law and respectful of human rights and human dignity.

      "However, we have been blind to the reality that our own place and privilege as Canadians is the result of gross human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples," she continued. "These violations continue to persist in overt and in more subtle ways daily across Canada. This truth hurts us all, and grossly undermines our values and our potential as a country."

      She called on non-Indigenous Canadians to acknowledge their role and "become actors in the rebuilding of this nation".